Accomplishing ‘firsts' has seemed to be a reoccurring theme for the Bulls this season under first year Head Coach Skip Holtz. Some of the firsts have been good and some have been disappointing. Losing to Syracuse for the first time ever qualifies for the latter but more often than not these ‘firsts' have been favorable for the Bulls. Snapping a four game losing streak to Cincinnati and winning for the first time ever at Nippert Stadium was one. Snapping another four game losing streak to Rutgers and beating them at home for the first time ever was another. Now add the Louisville game to the list of ‘firsts' as the Bulls defeated the Cardinals for the first time ever on the road. The victory gives USF a 5 -3 record all time against Louisville.
You have to give credit to the Bulls; they proved that they could beat a solid conference opponent on the road despite not even being close to having their best game. The Bulls struggled on offense for most of the game except for a few big plays but their defense and special teams rose to the challenge. They also did a better job than Louisville at making adjustments as the Bulls played much better in the second half. The defense made adjustments and limited the passing game of Louisville and the Bulls did a good job of playing a mistake free offense. The victory gives USF their third straight conference victory and is also the third time since joining the Big East that the Bulls have won three straight conference games. The Bulls have never won four straight conference games and next week against Pittsburgh the Bulls have an opportunity to accomplish another ‘first.' Now for the game grades:
B.J. Daniels was not as sharp as he could be going 11-19 with 87 yards passing and 1 TD. That one touchdown pass was a big one though, with USF trailing 14-13, Daniels hit Dontavia Bogan with a 48-yard strike off of play action. Daniels then easily scored the 2-point conversion. While Daniels threw zero interceptions he did lose a fumble early in the game that lead to a Louisville score. If the Bulls did not pull of the victory his grade would be lower. Grade: C
The Bulls backs gained 155 yards on the ground and got 106 yards rushing from Demetris Murray in the win, but the running game was inconsistent for most of the game. If it were not for Demetrius Murray's 67-yard run, the running game would have been nonexistent. The Bulls' running backs struggled to find running room against an aggressive Cardinal front seven and failed to find the end zone for the second consecutive week. Grade: C+
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The Bulls' wide receivers showed very little against Louisville's 9th ranked passing defense. Dontavia Bogan who caught the lone touchdown, left another touchdown on the field by failing to complete his route and left another potential big gain in single coverage on the field for doing the same thing. The wide receivers did not get open very often and because the Bulls stuck to mostly the running the ball, their opportunities were further limited. Wide Receiver has been weak spot all year long for the Bulls and this game did nothing to change those perceptions. Grade: C-
Considering that starting left tackle Jamar Bass was out, the Bulls offensive line played fairly well. They were not particularly great in run blocking but they did a very good job of keeping the Cardinal defenders off of B.J. Daniels. They faced a myriad of blitzes and only allowed 2 sacks however they did allow a total of 8 tackles for loss. That last stat drops them down a bit, but for playing on the road in a tough environment, they limited their penalties and made key blocks when they had to. Grade: B-
Todd Fitch and the Bulls had a simple game plan coming in: run the football and control the clock. Unfortunately, they did not do a good job of consistently executing the game plan. The Bulls offense could be surmised on two big plays. A 67-yard run by Demetrius Murray which led to 3 points and a 48-yard play action touchdown pass to Dontavia Bogan. Other than those two plays, the offense sputtered, gaining only 258 yards with just under 28 minutes time of possession. The option, which had been working so effectively in recent weeks, had limited success. The screen passes were not executed well and there was very little creativity in the play calling. Grade: C-
The Bulls linebackers played well for the most part. They were active and tackled well for the most part. Sam Barrington had a chance to make a play on the first touchdown scored by the Cardinals but slipped and as a result the pass was completed for a score. Jaquain Williams tipping a pass by the Louisville QB led to an interception. While those were positive moments, the linebackers overall did not do a good job against the run in the second half. The defensive line played well enough and the linebackers did not clean up the tackles. Louisville RB Bilal Powell rushed for 140 yards on 31 carries with a long of 21, if you subtract that 21-yard gain the Bulls would have kept Powell to 3.9 ypc. There are some things to clean up but this unit continues to be one of the most consistently good performers for the Bulls all season. Grade: B
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line played very well for the second week in a row, while they did not get any sacks, along with the linebacking corps they combined for 8 tackles-for-loss. They did a good job of getting pressure on Justin Burke and keeping him uncomfortable for the most of the day. They were also responsible for one of the Bulls' two interceptions when DE Ryne Giddins caught the ball off of a deflection. The biggest play of the game was a collaborative effort when the Bulls stuffed Louisville on a 4th and inches play in OT, which helped seal the win. Grade: B+
This was a tale of two halves. The secondary allowed two touchdowns early on and were content on allowing a lot of underneath completions allowing 114 yards passing in the first half. In the second half, the secondary played much better aided by the pressure of the defensive line as they held Louisville to only 32 yards passing. They would have pitched a second-half shutout but gave up the game-tying score with less than two minutes to play. The coverage was bad as CB Ricardo Dixon bit on a fade and allowed the score. Considering the injuries the unit sustained coming into the game as well as during the game, they played decently. Grade: B-
Mark Synder called a pretty good game overall and has been consistently implementing game plans that protect against big passing plays. He did a good job of calling plays that limited Louisville's running game in the first half but as a result the pass defense was a little shaky. The opposite occurred in the second half, but the Bulls played well enough to win and have consistently made good halftime adjustments against their opponents. Grade: B+
KR Lindsay Lamar made the most important play for the Bulls by returning a kickoff for a 100 yards and a touchdown. Before the kickoff, the Bulls were trailing 14-3 and had very little momentum, as the first half was about to commence. Lamar changed all of that with some nifty running and breaking several tackles en-route to the score. Another shout out goes to Maikon Bonani, as he connected on 3 out of 4 field goals including the game-winning 37 yarder in overtime. He had an opportunity to win the game in regulation with a 52 yard attempt that went through the uprights but was called off due to a timeout called by Louisville Head Coach Charlie Strong right before the attempt. The second attempt was not successful. The only aspect of the unit that keeps them from getting an ‘A' is Punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann. His punting was erratic all afternoon and the Bulls are fortunate it did not cost them any points. Grade: A-
Overall, the Bulls did not play their best game and still managed to defeat a conference foe on the road. That says a lot about the character that Coach Holtz has instilled in this team. The Bull have shown how important all aspects of the game are and have an opportunity to move further up the Big East standings against first place Pittsburgh next week.